Naturopaths have long believed that health starts in the digestive system, so much so that 70 percent of your immune system is located in the digestive system. The word ‘probiotic’ comes from the Greek words ‘pro’ (‘for’), and ‘biotic’ (‘life’) and are healthy bacteria which support our own health and wellbeing. Our digestive system contains healthy (good) bacteria and unhealthy (bad) bacteria.
The key to good health is about balancing the levels of healthy and unhealthy bacteria. If the good bacteria are thriving it makes it harder for the bad bacteria to ‘overgrow’ in our digestive tract. Believe it or not, our digestive tract contains 10 times more bacteria than the number of cells that make up the entire body! A healthy digestive system - and thus good health - requires that the good bacteria in our digestive system makes up at least 85 percent of the total bacteria we have in our digestive system.
When our good and bad bacteria are out of balance, we can suffer from the following problems: bloating, belching, heart burn, reflux, excessive flatulence, stomach discomfort, diarrhoea, constipation, sugar cravings, candida, vaginal thrush, and conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, food intolerances, eczema and allergies can be worsened.
Having healthy bacteria in our digestive tract helps the breakdown and absorption of our food, which increases the nutritional value of the food we consume, as well as boosting your immune system, and reducing bloating (thus helping to flatten the stomach!).
When our bacteria levels are well balanced our nutrient absorption increases and we eliminate toxins more efficiently. Your system can become imbalanced, leading to an excess of bad bacteria from taking antibiotics, eating refined carbohydrates and sugars, drinking alcohol, not eating enough fibre in the diet, stress and exposure to environmental toxins. For optimal health, we should consume probiotic foods such as yogurt, or a probiotic supplement on a daily basis.
When should we take probiotics?
- After antibiotic use
When we become ill with a bacterial infection we often take antibiotics to fight the infection. However, antibiotics kill most of the bacteria in the digestive system, both good and bad. After taking antibiotics we need probiotics to restore the gut flora to a healthy balance. A probiotic such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae (boulardii) can help maintain healthy gut flora while you’re taking antibiotics and afterwards.
- Suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Stress, food intolerances and bacterial imbalance have all been identified as things which may contribute to the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. All these issues may benefit from the use of probiotics.
- Leaky gut
Stress, food intolerances and lifestyle issues can cause our gut to become ‘leaky’ by producing gaps in the intestinal wall. Probiotics can decrease these gaps by promoting healthy gut lining.
- Eczema, allergies and asthma
Eczema, allergies and asthma are a direct inflammatory immune response. Probiotics may assist with the symptoms and prevention of eczema, allergies and asthma by improving the function of the mucosal lining of the intestines, by hindering the growth of pathogenic (bad) bacteria and stimulating the production of immune enhancing substances. The use of probiotic supplements is purported to protect against immune dysfunction and reduce inflammation, two key factors in the development of eczema.
However, allergies and asthma can have serious consequences, so if you want to use probiotics for conditions such as this, you are best seeing a healthcare practitioner who can prescribe the most appropriate ones for you, and monitor your health.
- Yeast infections
When we have an overgrowth of yeast and other bacteria in our digestive system we can get an overgrowth of candida. This can cause vaginal thrush, fungal infections, diarrhoea, constipation, memory loss or foggy memory, night sweats, rectal itching, fatigue, and a lowered immune system. By consuming probiotics you can minimise the growth of candida.
We naturally acquire probiotics from foods such as natural yoghurt, sauerkraut and kefir. Probiotics are also available as supplements. Saccharomyces cerevisiae (boulardii) is a unique type of probiotic that is actually a yeast. It may help reduce or prevent the risk of traveller's diarrhoea, help relieve diarrhoea, as well as helping the symptoms of diarrhoea-predominant medically-diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome and helps maintain your digestive health.
So support your digestive system today!